Woman exposed to MERS speaks out

22 hospital workers asked to stay home

ORLANDO, Fla. - Hospital officials in Orlando say a Saudi resident with the second U.S. case of a mysterious virus still has a fever but is in good spirits.

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Officials at Dr. Phillips Hospital said Tuesday that the Saudi resident still has a low-grade fever and is being treated in isolation for MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.  Caretakers have to wear goggles, gloves and a special suit while tending to him.

MERS is a respiratory illness that begins with flu-like fever and cough but can lead to shortness of breath, pneumonia and death. A third of those who develop symptoms die from it.

Dr. Antonio Crespo says two hospital workers were showing flu-like symptoms after coming into contact with the 44-year-old man.  One was cleared, but the other was admitted to the hospital.

As health officials seek to contact others who may have been exposed to the MERS-infected patient, one woman told Local 6 she was exposed while flying to Orlando aboard the same flight as the sick man.

Health officials said Tuesday roughly 500 people may have been exposed to the MERS virus by flying on planes within the United States with the sick patient.

One of those travelers learned Tuesday morning she had been exposed and was sent a health checklist.

"They informed me that there was a confirmed case of the MERS virus from my flight from Atlanta to Orlando. I was really scared," said the woman who does not want to be identified, but lives in Virginia and flew with her husband on May 1 aboard the same Delta flight with the MERS-infected patient.

Twelve days after her flight, her State Health Department called and sent her a letter that reads:

"You were exposed to a person with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome(MERS) on your flight" and asks if she has symptoms like fever (100.4 f degrees), cough, difficulty breathing, wheezing, or pain when coughing or breathing deeply. She and others who flew with the MERS patient must record their temperature for 14 days after their exposure."

"I was in shock that I could actually contract it. We're considered exposed but there was no level associated with that. They just said to me, 'You and your husband are considered to be exposed to the MERS virus,'" she said.

She and her husband have no symptoms but still have to monitor their health and they have until May 15 before they are in the clear.

Health officials said the MERS patient continues to improve at the hospital. Health officials said because he was not coughing on board the flights, the risk of spreading the virus to people on the plane is very low. The risk continues to decline among people who had even less contact with him at the airport or elsewhere.

Dr. Kevin Sherin, with the Florida Department of Health at Orange County, said, "I think the risk is negligible to this community."

The Greater Orlando Airport Authority echoed that by saying in a statement, "There is no immediate threat to travelers."

About 15 other workers, including two physicians at Dr. Phillips Hospital, as well as five workers at Orlando Regional Medical Center where the Saudi resident also visited, have been asked to stay home from work for two weeks until they are cleared of having the virus.

"(Orlando is) the travel destination and we are going to see more cases come into our community, so I think Dr. Crespo and I would agree that all the hospitals in Central Florida need to become very proficient when handling the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus," said Sherin.

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